From NASCAR children National Anthem singing to cars colliding and tempers flaring, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the 53rd annual IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Surprising: Disappointment surprisingly abounded atop the Chase leaderboard, with both point’s leader Jimmie Johnson finishing worse than 36th for the second week in a row and second place Chaser Clint Bowyer being spun out while in the lead, finishing 14th.
“This racing stuff happens,” Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet said after finishing 36th. “Luckily, we had a big point’s lead that we can kind of deal with right now.”
“We’ve locked into the Chase and certainly want to clean things up,” Johnson continued. “We’ll keep after it and be back again next week.”
Having once had been in the lead by over 70 plus points, Johnson is now just 18 points ahead of the second place driver Clint Bowyer.
“I felt like we had a shot at winning and then I got spun out by a lapper, of all things,” Bowyer said after the race. “It hit that left-front tire, and the car never turned the center (of the corners) as good the rest of the night.”
“I’m really just disappointed … because we had a really good car,” Bowyer continued. “Absolutely nothing went our way all night.”
Not Surprising: Although he has been a bit quiet over the last month or two, the resurgence of Matt Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing continued, with the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota rolling right into Bristol’s Victory Lane for the fifth time this season.
This was Kenseth’s 29th win in 496 Cup Series races and his third victory in 28 races at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“The last month and a half, two months has been a little bit more of a, I hate to say reality check,” Kenseth said. “We’ve struggled just a little bit more, haven’t quite had the speed so it was really, really encouraging this weekend to get to the track and be really fast.”
“It’s a huge win for us,” Kenseth continued. “The Bristol night race is one of the biggest races of the year.”
“I’m glad we were able to pull it off.”
Surprising: The driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet seemed surprisingly befuddled at the end of the race in spite of finishing runner up under the Bristol lights.
“I didn’t get it done,” Kasey Kahne said dejectedly. “We ended up second and it was a good point’s day but I didn’t figure out how to win the race.”
“I don’t know, I just don’t know,” Kahne continued. “I think at the end of the day I just don’t wreck people.”
This was Kahne’s ninth top-10 finish in 20 races at Bristol and his 11th top-10 finish of the season. He also moved up three positions in the Chase standings to the eighth spot.
Not Surprising: Joey Logano, riding the wave of momentum from last week’s race win at Michigan, not surprisingly proved, at least in his own mind, that he has the mettle to make it into the Chase.
The driver of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford finished fifth and moved up three spots in the points to the tenth position.
“We came from the back three times to get a top-five finish,” Logano said. “They can’t put us down and can’t keep us down.”
“We deserve to make this Chase and if we keep doing this on days that they’re trying to put us down, we deserve it.”
Surprising: Although admittedly hoping that the leaders would wreck each other so he could score the win, Juan Pablo Montoya surprisingly credited his third place finish to, of all things, a speeding penalty.
“I got caught speeding there with like 170 to go or something and that kind of hurt us,” the driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet said. “But I’ll tell you the truth, I think it helped us because if it would have played right, we probably would have run out of gas.”
“It made it more interesting,” Montoya continued. “I really cooked the front tires there at the end but it was fun.”
This was JPM’s fourth top-10 finish in 14 races at the Bristol Motor Speedway.
Not Surprising: Well, it was Bristol after all so, to no one’s surprise, there were a few tempers flaring, especially after a late race wreck took out many of the best cars, including some Chase contenders.
Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, who do have a history with one another, had a rather vigorous discussion on pit road after the wreck when Harvick pulled into Hamlin’s pit stall and Hamlin gave him a shove out of the box.
As a result, Harvick jumped out of his car and beat a path to the door of Hamlin’s car to have a few words about the incident.
“I just saw the No. 11 shoot across the track,” Harvick said. “He said the No. 56 got into him and so I just wanted to know what happened.”
“He just told me his version of it,” the driver of the No. 29 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet said. “It’s all good.”
“It’s Bristol racing.”
Harvick finish 34th but maintained his fourth spot in the point’s standings while Hamlin finish 28th, well out of Chase contention in 25th in the point’s standings.
Surprising: In spite of some greetings from Smoke’s recovery bed, the Stewart-Haas Racing team had a surprisingly tough day. Mark Martin, subbing for the ailing Stewart, finished 20th with Ryan Newman right behind him in 21st and Danica Patrick in 26th.
“We had some tough luck and a few things that we could’ve done better, but we were pretty fast at the end,” Martin said. “That’s why I go home feeling good about it because we were able to improve the car and get it competitive.”
“This one is behind us and hopefully we’ll move ahead from here.”
“I really don’t know what happened there,” Newman, behind the wheel of the No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet, said. “A couple of guys around us made contact and that triggered a big mess.”
“Our Quicken Loans Chevrolet was damaged pretty significantly; it was a handful to drive those last 50 laps with,” Newman continued. “I basically tried to just stay out of everyone’s way and bring the car to the finish.”
“There is nothing you can do about getting into the wall and having damage,” Patrick said. “We came back as best as we could and made the car as good as it was at the end.”
“We will take it and move on.”
Not Surprising: In spite of finishing top-10, Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Axalta Coating Systems Chevrolet, could only talk about opportunities lost at Bristol, especially after gaining just one position in the standings to the 13th spot.
“I think we were better than that,” Gordon said of his seventh place finish. “I don’t know if we had enough for Matt but we fought hard and gave it our best effort.”
“Gained points on 10th but not as much as we could have,” Gordon continued. “But we gained something.”
Surprising: While the Truex brothers were excited to be racing against one another yet again, both Ryan Truex, making his Cup debut, and Martin Truex, Jr. had surprisingly difficult days.
Young Ryan Truex spun and hit the wall, retiring his No. 51 Seawatch Chevrolet after 39 laps to finish 42nd in his first ever Cup effort.
Brother Martin had a very hard crash late in the race, causing him to finish 35th in his No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota. Although maintaining his wild card status thanks to his win, Truex Jr. also suffered in the point standings, losing two positions to 14th.
“We ran up towards the front all night,” Truex Jr. said. “Just disappointed.”
“They start wrecking and you’re an innocent victim,” Truex Jr. continued. “We didn’t deserve that tonight.”
Not Surprising: Another brother duo, this one with the surname Busch, had eventful days at Bristol as well, with Kyle Busch having to start from the rear of the field to finish 11th and Kurt Busch suffering wheel hub issues resulting in a 31st place run.
“Yeah, I guess we had a right-rear hub fail where the studs pulled through or they weren’t tightened,” the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing/Sealy Chevrolet said. “We just rode around.”
Kurt Busch lost three positions in the point’s standings, falling to the 12th spot. Kyle Busch remains in the fifth spot in the standings, 82 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
Surprising: There was a surprising first-of-the season engine failure at Roush Fenway Racing and it happened to none other than the race lap leader Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Fastenal Ford.
“I didn’t have any warning,” Edwards said. “The car was almost perfect and the engine ran awesome until it broke.”
“The engine ran great until it blew up, so if we run like that the rest of the year, it’s going to be awesome.”
Not Surprising: Marcos Ambrose finished top-10 for two weeks in a row and he said that the devil made him do it.
“That’s two top-10s in two weeks and we’ve got to take that,” the driver of No. 9 Stanley Ford Fusion said. “Yeah, I guess a little bit of the Tasmanian Devil comes out in me at this track.”
“This is a really aggressive track and you’ve got to be aggressive all night,” Ambrose continued. “You’ve got to gnaw on that steering wheel and I just like getting up on the wheel like that.”
“These are good nights to test your mettle and see what kind of man or lady you are out there and get after it.”
The Cup Series will head next to Atlanta for the next to the last race before the Chase begins.